Friday, 27 May 2011


My attempt to enact one of my new year resolutions - to join and participate in a book group - is floundering on the rocks of circumstance (and, actually, ineptitude).

My first attempt centred around Jane Smiley's A Private Life. I really enjoyed this novel, which intertwines a beautifully observed, sterile marriage with the major events of early modern American history, taking in theology and science en route. One cannot, however, number brevity amongst its qualities, and I could not make the time to read it before my local book group met. Incidentally, the book has now joined that previously cited pantheon, Books Enjoyed By Both My Wife And I.

Nothing daunted, I noted and bought the next selected tome, Rosamund Pilcher's The Shell Seekers, only to discover subsequently that the date for the group to discuss this novel fell during my visit to New York for the Book Expo.

It has not escaped my attention that the choice of books so far has fallen exclusively into the Large Novels by Female Authors category. If I ever actually get to a meeting, become an influential member and rise to the dizzy height of selecting a work to discuss, it may well be a haiku.


Wednesday, 18 May 2011


The US arts and media blog Thirteen recently ran an interesting column on five books that ought to be made into films. We were delighted that 20% of these were Capuchin titles; namely The Conclave by Michael Bracewell, previously discussed in this blog. The website's film critic Alice Gregory says:
Martin and Marilyn aspire obsessively towards the best that a gilded 1980s London has to offer — filagreed china, bespoke suits, olives. But the urban aesthetes lead a predictably empty life, whose ups and downs correlate exactly to those of the stock market. There are healthy doses of conspicuous consumption, indulgent melancholy, and unbridled narcissism. It’s an allegory that could go real dark, real fast on screen. Do not allow Sofia Coppola to get her hands on this one; hire Todd Haynes instead. Ideally, this would be poorly acted.

Present and aspiring film producers, please take note.


Tuesday, 17 May 2011


Observant blogees may have noticed a significant lapse in postings. Once again I trail my head in ashes* and sternly smite my breast, pleading pressure of other work.

The blog returns with the announcement that the new Capuchin catalogue is available. If you have requested a physical copy, you should receive one in the next fortnight or so. For those who (understandably) insist on immediate gratification, this link on our website will reveal a PDF which can be viewed online or downloaded.

Look out for another post tomorrow describing my failed attempts to participate in a book group.


*Sustainably produced from FSC approved wood sources and environmentally sensitive burning, naturally.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011


The always stimulating Desperate Reader blogger has posted a thoughtful review of The Unbearable Bassington, by 'Saki'. For her perspicacity and taste, we may eventually forgive her for having read the out of print Penguin version rather than our edition. Although it is not an index of quality generally recognised by the world of culture, this book belongs to the relatively small pantheon of those enjoyed equally by my wife and me. As I wrote in an earlier, blog, the contrast between the cynically sparkling tone of the bulk of the book and the very powerful ending, is hugely powerful and affecting.


Thursday, 7 April 2011


Continuing the theme of puffing pet authors, I've been reminded recently - listening to the fervid debates about workers in the financial sector and their considerable rewards - of a gloriously silly Mervyn Peake poem about same.


The men in bowler hats are sweet
And dance through April showers,
So innocent! Oh it's a treat
To watch their tiny little feet
Leap nimbly through the arduous wheat
Among the lambs and flowers.

Many and many is the time
When I have watched them play
A broker drenched in glimmering rime,
A banker, innocent of crime,
With lots of bears and bulls, in time
To share the holiday.

The grass is lush - the moss is plush
The trees are hands at prayer.
The banker and the broker flush
To see a white rose in a bush,
And gasp with joy, and with a blush,
They hug each bull and bear.

The men in bowler hats are sweet
Beneath their bowler hats.
It's not their fault, if in the heat
Of their transactions, I repeat
It's not their fault if vampires meet
And gurgle in their spats.

This is from the at least partially mis-titled A Book of Nonsense.


Wednesday, 6 April 2011


I know, I know. Why don't I just change the name of this platform to the Leonard Cohen blog and have done with it. This post is really, however, about the very serious problem of book addiction. Despite a chronic lack of domestic shelf space, and the fact that the tome depicted to the east of this text (a new compilation of poems and song lyrics) contains very little that is not already burdening said shelves in other forms, can you blame me for crumbling before the sheer desirability of the format and design.

Besides, I felt the need to participate, via a commercial transaction, in the enshrinement of The Grocer of Despair into the canon of Everyman Pocket Classics. Can sainthood be far behind?


Monday, 4 April 2011


It's interesting to ponder the vocabulary and style of language employed by the transport companies to whom we daily entrust our bodies. I have not yet become accustomed to having been converted from a 'passenger' to a 'customer', for example, nor am I any the wiser for my local overground train company having renamed itself (doubtless at tremendous expense and having furnished several teams of designers with lavish penthouse lifestyles for life,) First Capital Connect. Do we have other capitals? The company used to be called WAGN, which at least afforded the opportunity for its victims (I beg your pardon, customers), while stuck outside Welwyn Garden City for half an hour because a 'unit' had developed 'motion issues' (ok I invented that one) to construct amusingly critical variations using those letters.

Recently at King's Cross we started being told that the 'access' to particular lines had 'restricted access'. The idea of access to access is one which, if not swiftly pruned, leads to a nightmarish vortex of regression and self reference. I hope that the access to the access of the access doesn't also become restricted, then where would we be. The absolute corker, is of course, the bland reassurance that
There is a good service on all London Underground lines.
What was that Plato said about any lie being credible if it were big enough.


Friday, 1 April 2011


From The Bookseller's estimable e-news bulletin. Another onerous administrative burden for overworked booksellers.

Government set to curb foreign authors

Bookshops are facing quotas on the number of foreign authors they can stock as the government plans to launch a "British Books for British Readers" campaign.

The Bookseller has learned Prime Minister David Cameron is set to give a speech today outlining his latest iteration of the "Big Society". A DCMS spokesman said: "The publishing industry needs protecting from the Browns, Larssons and Meyers of this world. We think British literature should be celebrated, not swamped. Crime novels set in gloomy Scandinavian forests have an unfair advantage over our cosy domestic settings, so we have to level the playing field to protect this vital domestic industry."

Under the plans, bookshops will only be able to hold 10% of stock from overseas authors. Using rules originally framed for international football, authors with British grandparents could qualify as British. The government is also examining the special case of Irish writers. While Northern Irish writers could controversially be classed as British, Irish authors such as James Joyce and Cecelia Ahern would fall foul of the proposed rules.

Authors such as Kipling and Orwell, both born in India to British parents, or J G Ballard, born in China, would remain eligible. The status of British authors who move overseas or adopt "foreign" writing styles, like Lee Child, remains a grey area.

Foreign publishers reacted quickly to the news. "We don’t have to take any more Alexander McCall Smith or Jeffrey Archer you know," said Danish editor Uwe Binhad of Loof Lirpa Associates.


Tuesday, 29 March 2011


I thought it was about time that I again interrogated my colleagues in order to ascertain with what forms of literary nourishment they are sustaining themselves. One cannot be too careful; sinister figures lurk in dark alleys, waiting to tempt the naive and unwary with unsuitable forms of prose. Here are the results, presented of course anonymously.

One colleague is reading One's Company: a Journey to China in 1933 by Peter Fleming, being an account of the Times Special Correspondent's eastern wanderings.

Another is learning about the grim connections between Hitler and Stalin's murderous campaigns in Bloodlands.

French maverick author, and challenger to British pronunciation, Michel Houellebecq is engrossing a third workmate in the form of Atomised, a novel which uses molecular biology as a metaphor for the 'atomisation' of modern society.

I am experiencing delightful frissons of psychological terror through the American gothic gloom of Edgar Allan Poe's short stories.

Are we a representative cross section, I wonder, and if so of what.


Thursday, 24 March 2011


As an admirer of Mervyn Peake since I first became a keen reader, I am delighted that his centennial birth year is being marked by a number of exciting publishing projects. The very useful page run by Sebastian Peake - one of the sons of the author - is a good place to view these books, as well as offering news of exhibitions and related events and products.

The most fascinating for me is the fourth Gormenghast book, which was begun by Peake during his terminal illness and then completed by his late wife. Recently rediscovered, it is being published as Titus Awakes. I've read the trilogy numerous times, and enjoyed the BBC adaptation (while remaining mystified that no-one has been inspired to make a feature film from the books) and will count the days until July comes and I can see in what directions - literally and metaphysically - this unusual collaboration took the character of Titus Groan.

Peake was a remarkable figure, creating work not only in many different literary genres (poetry, prose, children's books, plays) but also being a superb illustrator and accomplished artist. If I had to choose one piece to illustrate his unique approach and talents, it would be the remarkable, long narrative World War II poem The Rhyme of the Flying Bomb. I hope this commemoration and associated activity bring him to the attention of many more people.


Monday, 21 March 2011


The formidable Jane Austen has, it seems, the ability to reach across the centuries and assist with the complexities of modern relationships. The publisher Hodder has recently acquired - in what is reported to have been a 'fierce' rights auction - a novel in which a freelance journalist, reaching a mid-life crisis and anxious to find a mate, decides to use the Austen novels as guides for so doing. The book will be published in 2012.

It's an interesting approach and one less likely to end in tears, I imagine, than following the romantic template of Edgar Allan Poe, whose stories, it has often been observed, seem to suggest that there is no more desirable woman than a beautiful one who happens to be expiring from an ill-defined malady. I've just been rereading Poe's stories (a choice selection of which is presented in our very own The Dupin Mysteries) and finding them exquisitely well-written and faultlessly timed. Curiously the poetry, which I've also revisited and was anticipating more eagerly, has left me cold.


Friday, 18 March 2011


Firstly, let me apologise for the long delay between posts. Our parent company has been undergoing a restructure, and is now standing defiantly, hands on hips, saying 'Bring it on' to the world of publishing. See how down with the kids am I.

As a consequence of our little hiatus, it is likely that the March Capuchins will actually emerge in early April, but please watch this space for confirmation.

I thought I'd restart the blog momentum with a lovely snippet from The Bookseller news bulletin. I make no apologies for purloining this, as they took it from The Guardian.

In the brave new era of digital self-publishing, an unknown mystery writer in New York is managing to make headlines for him or herself by using a form of technology in use since Martin Luther's 95 Theses were posted on the door of a Wittenberg church in 1517.

Pages of a novel entitled Holy Crap are being plastered on lampposts up and down Manhattan's East Village - helpfully numbered, and with directions as to where to find the next instalment.

The whole article may be found here.

Perhaps this habit might cross the Atlantic? Keep an eye on those streetlights.


Monday, 28 February 2011


Rachel Cooke selected the 10 'best neglected literary classics' for a feature in The Observer yesterday. We at Capuchin Towers were delighted to note that not only did she crown this pantheon with The Real Charlotte, which will emerge as a new Capuchin next month, but that she also selected a title by Barbara Comyns, whose Juniper Tree we are publishing in October.

A lively series of comments has been posted in reply to the piece, many offering alternative titles or entire lists.


Friday, 25 February 2011


Most of us have ideas and associations relating to particular authors, and it's always interesting when these are refined, brought into sharper focus or even dispelled by more information. My wife and I recently watched an absorbing documentary on Edgar Allan Poe's work and life - and especially his relationship with women - called Edgar Allan Poe Love, Death and Women. This programme led me on to the short but very worthy biography by Peter Ackroyd, Poe: a Life Cut Short.

This book opens, dramatically, with the mysterious last week of Poe's life, which ended with his undiagnosed death, and the details of which have never been definitively established, beyond the great likelihood that these days were tainted by the desperate alcoholic abuse that characterised his life. Ackroyd is deft at drawing connections between the writer's life and his art, never taking this approach too far, and writing with perception and clarity throughout.

The dominating theme that emerges from the book is Poe's obsessive need to be loved, trusted and welcomed by women, although his attempts to realise this need were fatally undermined by is own behaviour and character. At times, he performed extraordinary mental, emotional and logistical juggling acts when courting such approval from different women simultaneously, especially after the death from tuberculosis at a young age of his wife (and first cousin) Virgina.

Ackroyd also briefly but helpfully discusses the range of contemporary reactions to Poe's work, and the enormous influence exercised by Poe's prose and poetry over whole genres and literary movements, from detective fiction through to the French symbolists.

We published a Poe short story collection - The Dupin Mysteries - in January 2010 which is as good a place to start your Poe research as any.


Tuesday, 22 February 2011


I've just finished reading Stephen Benatar's extraordinary novel, When I was Otherwise. Told largely through dialogue, but also graced by passages of quietly witty narration, the book tells the stories of three main characters. Dan - unassuming, straightforward, kind-hearted, but naive: Marsha - who clumsily attempts the roles of coquette and model wife with equal, tragi-comic results and Daisy, whose witty, waspish, overwhelming character is belied by a failure to construct an emotionally or practically rewarding life. The novel both teases and involves the reader as it makes chronological jumps to unravel the twisted skein of relationships between the three protagonists, making the book an engaging puzzle as well as a compelling read.

Benatar's gift for credible dialogue is astonishing, and he is able to bring to life and develop characters very powerfully in this way, creating scenes and atmospheres which encompass many moods, from the dark and bleak to the joyful. The book is forensic in its analysis of the blessings and pitfalls of human life, especially where growing old is concerned, but wears its author's talents very lightly, the style never seeming forced or contrived.

For anyone who loves to witness the English language being well used, and who revels in the rounded and moving depiction of characters, this is a book not to miss.

Our edition will be published in late March this year.


Monday, 21 February 2011


Firstly, apologies that my other duties and personal circumstances have combined to cause a long delay between the last post and this.

The author Mark Andresen has launched an interesting and provocative new blog, called The Pan Review. There is a link to Capuchin here, in that the name is taken from Pan's Garden, a collection of short stories by Algernon Blackwood, and we are publishing our own Blackwood compilation in May, Ancient Sorceries.

Mark's first post makes a spirited defence of the short novel and story forms, and argues that they are now more relevant modes of discourse than the classic full-length novel. This is certainly an interesting perspective and one which calls for, I think, some vigorous commenting by the blogosphere.

I hope to resume more frequent posting, so watch this space for my thoughts on one of the March Capuchins, When I was Otherwise, by Stephen Benatar.


Tuesday, 1 February 2011


I thought it might be jolly to pen the occasional blog looking in a little more detail at the lives of Capuchin authors. The man behind our second best-selling title - Michael Arlen and The Green Hat respectively - launches this initiative.

Arlen was born Dikran Kouyoumdjian in Bulgaria, to Armenian parents, in 1895, but established his reputation in England during the 1920s. His works were first published in magazines and took the form of essays, book reviews, personal essays, short stories, and a play. Arlen moved into the romance genre, to which he added the spices of psychology, the supernatural and horror, culminating in a defining book of short stories called These Charming People (which we published last year).

All this work coalesced into The Green Hat, which, with its (then) racy story and brilliant description of its times, propelled him to instant fame and fortune. The book became a broadway play and was filmed twice, as A Woman of Affairs and Outcast Lady. The former was a silent film starring Greta Garbo, and deliberately understated or avoided altogether what were considered the highly charged subjects of the book, this reticence also motivating the change of name.

In subsequent work, Arlen again experimented with different genres and fantastic themes, producing a dystopian novel and an adventuring detective - Gay Falcon - who became the subject of several mystery films. He never, however, recaptured the peak of success attained by The Green Hat.

The various phases and locations of Arlen's life and career brought him into contact with many notable figures, including Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence, Nancy Cunard and Countess Atalanta Mercati, who he married. Having had his loyalty to Britain questioned in the House of Commons (due to his Bulgarian nationality and the complications arising therefrom), Arlen moved to New York in 1946, where he died ten years later.


Friday, 28 January 2011


The Bookseller, chief organ of the book trade in the UK, has launched a campaign to support libraries in their struggle to survive the current round of budgetary cutbacks.

As they explain on the Facebook page for this campaign:

We are fighting for public libraries because they form an essential seed-bed for the wider reading culture of the nation, a culture from which the whole of society benefits.

Libraries seed communities with books and ideas in a way which is irreplaceable. They provide books to people who wouldn’t otherwise see or afford them, the youngest in society, the oldest, and people on low incomes. They also provide free internet access to the 27% of the population who still aren’t online at home.

Libraries are also a forum where authors and readers can come together in a neutral, unbiased space - free from commercial pressures.

Most importantly they are curated by professional librarians who provide expert guidance for readers, helping people find the books and information they need, again free from commercial considerations.

Readers, reading and the values imparted are essential to any civilised society – indeed it seems impossible to conceive a civilisation without libraries.

Many high profile authors have raised a similar clamour recently, including Philip Pullman, and it will be interesting to observe what results their efforts produce.


Wednesday, 26 January 2011


The Guardian Books blog this Monday carried a well-considered and thought-provoking piece by Robert McCrum, called 'Books that change your world but no-one else's'. Acknowledging that certain books have had a pivotal effect on the world (Rachel Carson's Silent Spring and Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch, for example), McCrum goes on to examine

those books that speak to, and move, us as individual readers, become part of our imaginative landscape, and remain a secret, private pleasure

but which may drift out of the awareness of publishing and reading communities.

Mr. McCrum is then kind enough to mention Capuchin Classics as a publisher who seeks out and revivifies such books, mentioning in particular Craig Nova's superb novel, Incandescence, (which we published in the summer of 2009) as an example of a modern classic that was previously unknown to him.

This Guardian blog is a constant source of interesting news and observation, and it is heartening to see the numerous and lively responses that are being posted as responses to Monday's contribution.


Tuesday, 25 January 2011


Our sister imprint, Stacey International, occasionally publishes poetry and fiction and an interesting new title in the former category has just been announced for May 2011.

Treading the Dance is a beautiful, bilingual, illustrated collection of medieval Danish folk ballads, in which the English reader will discover many ideas, images and themes familiar from British folk song and literature, including desperate lovers, magical animals and bloodthirsty nobles. The Danish ballads are important because they show us key aspects of the Northern European sensibility in a vernacular style and were the first European ballads to be collected and written down.

Over the centuries, the ballads have inspired songwriters, poets and playwrights, served the needs of World War II resistance fighters and even formed the basis for a radio jingle.

For the Romantic poets in both Denmark and England, the revived interest in the ballads sprang from their ability in both style and content to produce a powerful narrative drama that taps into fundamental aspects of human experience.

Here's a snippet:

From The Maiden in Birdskin

He cut the flesh out of his chest
And hung it on the tree,
She spread her wings and down she flew
Great was her grief to see.

But when the little nightingale
Pecked at the bloody meat,
She changed into the fairest maid
That you could ever greet.


Monday, 24 January 2011


Suzie Feay, who has for many years been a regular commentator on the books world for the FT, Time Out and the Independent on Sunday, among others, has launched a new blog. Suzi Feay's Book Bag is a lively, intelligent and attractively presented offering, which so far has included a perceptive overview of David Mitchell's work and an absorbing discussion of the alleged distinctions between 'literary' and 'commercial' fiction.

The latter theme brought back memories of my days as an English Lit. student (at the beautifully environed Aberystwyth university) involved in frequent earnest discussions over how (and whether) literary merit should be assigned and whether 'the literary canon' is an oppressive bourgeois concept, designed to suppress the voices of diversity and unfairly foreground a narrow cadre of writers deemed acceptable by the establishment. We also went out and drank beer sometimes.

Ms Feay's blog is a destination well worth adding to your virtual roadmap.


Wednesday, 19 January 2011


The verbal pun is often held in low esteem by those who aspire to be thought of as intellectual, or possessing advanced sensibilities, but notable writers have been irresistibly drawn towards this form, and have celebrated it in and through their work. The inner child in Mervyn Peake, for example, was delighted by the simple:
Mary Rose sat on a pin, Mary rose.
and he also created a book comprising visual depictions of well-known phrases, which relied on visual puns, called Figures of Speech.

I've been reading The Best of Myles, the selected journalism of Flann O'Brien, who was such a supreme champion and exponent of puns that he often constructed them in two or three languages at once. O'Brien's column in The Irish Times, penned under the name of Myles na gCopaleen, took on a number of forms, each of which demonstrated his facility with and love for language, and in particular what could happen when registers, vocabularies and styles from different worlds were combined (this approach was given further and brilliant rein in his novels, especially At Swim Two Birds). There is an incredible series of articles, for example, lamenting the decline of knowledge about steam technology among railwaymen, and another in which the writer is the unwilling victim of a man who unleashes a series of incredible, rambling stories about 'the brother', a practically superhuman individual who can single-handedly resolve any problem or nullify any perceived danger to himself and his household.

In probably the best-known series of articles, O'Brien takes the characters of Keats and Chapman (of 'Chapman's Homer' fame) and places them in various absurd scenarios, simply in order to deliver an excruciating pun at the end of an unfeasible story. Here's an example:
Keats was presented with an Irish terrier, which he humorously named Byrne. One day the beast strayed from the house and failed to return at night. Everyone was distressed, save Keats himself. He reached reflectively for his violin, a fairly passable timber of the Stradivarius feciture, and was soon at work with chin and jaw.

Chapman, looking in for an after-supper pipe, was astonished at the poet's composure, and did not hesitate to say so. Keats smiled (in a way that was rather lovely).

"And why should I not fiddle," he asked, "while Byrne roams?"

I love the use of the word 'feciture'. There are many more.


Friday, 14 January 2011


To round off Poetry Week at the blog with something of an amuse-bouche, here are a few of my favourite limericks. Although usually a vehicle for reasonably crass, lowbrow humour of a sexual nature, this form can also yield surprisingly witty and intelligent examples, and there is something about the combination of rhyme and metre that produces a strong impact, even in the humblest of manifestations.

From, respectively: Anon; Wendy Cope (stanza III from her limerick version of 'The Wasteland') and Maurice E. Hare.

There once was a man from Peru,
Whose limericks stopped at line two.


The Thames runs, bones rattle, rats creep;
Tiresias fancies a peep--
A typist is laid,
A record is played--
Wei la la. After this it gets deep.


There was a young man who said "Damn!
I perceive with regret that I am
But a creature that moves
In predestinate grooves
I'm not even a bus, I'm a tram.

Please feel free to inundate me with your own limerick efforts as comments.


Wednesday, 12 January 2011


I'm reading - with great pleasure and not a little pleasant perplexity - Leonard Cohen's first poetry collection, Let Us Compare Mythologies. This has been recently reissued as an attractive facsimile of the original 1956 publication.

Those who are familiar only with his songs will already be aware that he is a densely allusive writer, who sometimes uses and combines systems of symbolism and reference in ways that demand a thoughtful response from his audience. His poems, even those he produced at the age of 22, offer the same challenge, but also many rewards in terms of the power they carry through imagery, metre, theme and vocabulary.

Occasionally, an apparently more straightforward example appears, and consequently has the impact of a ballad (a word Cohen uses in some titles), lullaby or chant. One of my favourite such is:


My lover Peterson
He named me Goldenmouth
I changed him to a bird
And he migrated south

My lover Frederick
Wrote sonnets to my breast
I changed him to a horse
And he galloped west

My lover Levite
He named me Bitterfeast
I changed him to a serpent
And he wriggled east

My lover I forget
He named me Death
I changed him to a catfish
And he swam north

My lover I imagine
He cannot form a name
I'll nestle in his fur
And never be to blame.

For an astonishingly erudite and intelligent discussion of Cohen's (and other artists') poetry and lyrics, as well as interesting explorations of many other related themes, The Leonard Cohen Forum is to be recommended. See especially the sections at the bottom.


Tuesday, 11 January 2011


The e-bulletin from The Bookseller, as well as reporting the main events and news items from the publishing domain, is also sprinkled with signposts to interesting and often unusual book-related themes and sites. My attention was drawn in this way yesterday to a website called Globalwriters. This is an online community for all members of the species to post work, exchange ideas and particpate in events. They've also - continuing the theme for this week - just launched a poetry competition, with free entry, once you've signed up to the site (also free). There is a modest cash prize and, I think uniquely, you can view all the other entries, as they're displayed in the manner of comments in a discussion thread.

The competition runs until April 2011.


Monday, 10 January 2011


I've been renewing my interest in poetry recently. My Christmas reading was graced by a lovely new collection called Songs of the Darkness, by Lawrence Sail. Sail often uses ideas and themes which relate more obliquely to the traditional festive concepts and objects, and cleverly weaves these into the overarching themes of hope, death and rebirth. At his best, he builds layers of imagery, sound and theme to create subtle and beautiful poems, and is particularly good on celebrating natural history. All royalties from sales of Songs of the Darkness will be given to Trusts for African Schools, a registered charity which acts as a conduit for money raised in the UK to be sent out to some of the poorest schools in Africa

Also noted is a new initiative from The Poetry Book Society, namely a virtual reading group, based around a selection of books they suggest, which can also be purchased at discounted rates.

More on writing which doesn't make it to the right hand side of the page in the next blog.


Wednesday, 5 January 2011


Firstly, a happy new year to all our blogees (I'm hoping this word will make it into the next OED, if it isn't in already).

I learnt (soon after returning to my desk and taking a virtual machete to the forest of e-mails that awaited me) that the redoubtable Barry Humphries had, while in conversation with the husky siren of English letters, Mariella Frostrup, on BBC Radio 4's Open Book show, chosen South Wind as one of his five favourite books.

You can hear the programme, and discover his other choices, here.